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The Stepford Wives (12A)



Review by: Jack Foley | Rating: One

DVD SPECIAL FEATURES: None listed at present

THAT old chestnut, ‘the pointless remake’, rears its ugly head once again, for this ill-advised revamp of The Stepford Wives, a creepy 1975 thriller, starring Katherine Ross, which has been transformed into a light-hearted satire featuring the delectable Nicole Kidman.

Designed as a satirical look at everything from consumerism and reality TV shows to the battle of the sexes and the pressures of modern life, Frank Oz’s movie systematically fails to realise any of is early promise and ends up squandering the talents of a fairly meaty cast to boot.

Based on the novel by Ira Levin, but given a camp makeover by screenwriter, Paul Rudnick, the film may look as good as one of its blonde Stepford housewives, but feels as shallow and vacuous as well.

Gone is the creepy element of Ross’s original, replaced instead by a knowingly smug outlook that seems to hint at being more clever and barbed than it really is.

Kidman stars as career-fixated TV-exec wife, Joanna Eberhart, who finds herself sacked and on the verge of a nervous breakdown when her latest reality TV show prompts a murderous backlash from one of its failed contestants.

In a desperate bid to reclaim her life, sanity and marriage (to Matthew Broderick), she agrees to move to the town of Stepford, Connecticut, where she finds a community of picture-perfect housewives, who dote on their husband’s every needs.

Or, as one of the character’s puts it, where the wives have been transformed from ‘castrating career bitches’ into well-behaved sex-kittens, who exist under the strict eye of Christopher Walken and his manners-obsessed wife, Glenn Close.

Naturally, Joanna rebels and, with the help of her down-at-heel neighbour (Bette Midler), resolves to uncover the secrets of Stepford, while her husband plots to make her toe the line.

Unfortunately, what really ought to make for an interesting spectacle, given the quality of the cast, ends up failing dismally, as Oz and Rudnick consistently resort to cheap laughs, horrible stereotypes and obvious plot contrivances.

Thus, for every well-observed gag (which include pot-shots at AOL and a funny reality-TV game show, called I Can Do Better), there is something equally turgid just waiting in the wings.

And as barbed as it would like to think it is, the film bends over a little too much to remain politically-correct.

Hence, every dark route it contemplates taking is ruined by the underlying message, which takes over completely during the over-cooked final third - that love will conquer all and it’s okay to be different. Fine messages, indeed, but rammed home with all the usual subtlety of a Hollywood blockbuster.

The problems wouldn’t be quite so glaring had the performances offered anything to savour, but they also fall victim to the same sort of soulless excess that dogs the majority of proceedings.

Kidman is particularly annoying as the self-obsessed Joanna, while the likes of Walken and Close seem content merely to ham things up (Walken, especially, could have phoned in the performance).

Midler offers some mild comic relief, but Broderick and the rest of the men are reduced to wimps, who only gain satisfaction from turning their domineering wives into sex slaves-cum-cashpoint machines, rather than bumping them off, as they did in the original.

The whole thing lacks the balls needed to make it worthwhile, forcing one to ponder why they bothered in the first place. Viewers shouldn’t bother, either.

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